Business Growth Through Unity

Jun 26th, 2017

“In unison there is strength.”

How to prepare for business growth? This is the theme I have been working on over the past few months with boards and equity partnerships. These organisations have achieved a level of success through passion, creativity, being great with clients and often with a visionary leader. Now they need to advance to the next stage of development – expand internationally, evolve their product offering or structure funding, for example.


The stakes are high. Only one third of companies identified as ‘fast-growing’ were still successful five to eight years down the line, according to research by the Kauffman Foundation and Inc. Magazine. Two-thirds had gone out of business, shrunk in size or been disadvantageously sold.


Growth, as we know, requires a robust strategic plan. But the best laid plan needs a high-performing, united, cohesive team to drive it forwards. As the celebrated basketballer Michael Jordan said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”


When working with my clients on this issue, here are some key questions I begin with:


What is your vision for the business?
A company’s vision is often communicated solely as financial targets. What do you want your business to be known for? What will your business look like in five years’ time if you have achieved this? The vision is a powerful filter for decisions, for example, to identify not only which markets you want to play in, but also those you specifically don’t.


How does your personal vision fit in with this?
If you and your team members can see how their own ambitions can be achieved through the corporate vision, they will be engaged and motivated. I recently sat down with two equity partners in the finance sector to discuss strategic planning. It quickly became clear that their personal goals were seemingly at odds – one partner was reviewing his role and looking for a potential exit, the other expansion. I therefore conducted a Personal Vision Day with each equity partner first. Once we came back to discuss strategy, both were clear about what they wanted and the vision and growth plan flowed from that position.


What is your role as leader?
As the business grows, the leader often becomes spread too thinly – staying focused on operational activities and fee earning with little time for strategic thought on navigating the business. Where do you as leader need to focus 80% of your time to achieve your vision?
Think too about your strengths and who you need to partner with to complement those strengths.


What is the role of every member of your Executive Team?
When you have been working together for a long time as an executive team, a familiarity sets in. How well do you really know each other? How do you use each other? How do you recognise the natural talents in the team? At one client, one of the partners was making a significant contribution through his detailed research which gave the organisation a distinctive service proposition at the heart of its DNA. But it meant his fees were lower, and consequently his contribution less recognised. Having identified this activity was key to their USP, the organisation reorganised his role to make it a top priority that was rewarded on the same basis as fee income.


What processes and structures support the vision to increase efficiency?
Organisations which have grown through innovation and creativity often fall short on structure. Are you constantly reviewing progress against your business plan and maintain dialogue? Are you excited about the plan or is it stuck in a drawer? View it as your compass. And concentrate on three key goals – structure meetings on this basis and know who is accountable. Now is also the time to ensure you manage key talent so their career paths keep them within the business. And put succession plans in place – does every critical role have a successor, both short and long-term?


How do you communicate as a team?
A high-performing cohesive team needs clear communication structures in place. What are the core meetings that ensure everyone is clear on business progress and direction? Think about weekly meetings, business plan reviews, away days to reflect on strategy, one to ones with your team and appraisals. And what do you do to celebrate success on a regular basis? After the excitement of the start-up phase, the fun can be lost. What are the team events that bring your people together and make the feel part of something special?”

One of my client organisations is driven by a visionary, highly-creative, entrepreneurial MD. He has shaped a unique, innovative business in a sector where innovation is rare. Business had grown financially year on year – until last year. I recently worked with him and his team. Some of the solutions we addressed included:

• The MD was too focused on the immediate operational deal-making rather than looking ahead – how could he leverage his team to delegate?
• The MD’s strength was not detail or structure. He continued to drive decisions through, as he had in the early days, without sufficient consideration – which of his colleagues could complement his strengths, taking his ideas to evaluate and execute them?
• His ‘single operator’ style had created divisions in the team – how could the team reunite? Were they all motivated – what brought them alive? How could the MD leverage everyone’s strengths? And how could they measure progress?

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team,” said American basketball coach Phil Jones. Unity provides the strength for bringing the growth plan to fruition. As quoted in the Harvard Business Review Article ‘Start-Ups that Last’ (Gulati and DeSantola), “It’s a lot easier to launch your rocket ship in search of new horizons when you don’t have to worry that someone forgot to fill the tank.”


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I welcome the opportunity of an exploratory conversation with you.  Please contact me at


Oona Collins